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Monday, December 16, 2013

Egyptians Mock Ads Promoting New Constitution With Typos and Stock Images

A campaign to win support for a draft of Egypt’s new constitution got off to a rocky start on Sunday, one month ahead of a referendum, when observers noticed that a banner promoting the document misspelled the word for “Egyptians” in Arabic and used stock images of foreigners to stand in for representative citizens.

As Egyptian bloggers were quick to note, the banner was given a prominent spot at a news conference on the referendum, hanging behind members of the committee appointed by the interim authorities to write the new constitution.

Loay El Biritaany, a leader of the activist film collective Mosireen, which was formed to document protests against authoritarian rule in Egypt, pointed out that a typo in the banner’s Arabic text mistakenly referred to the charter as a constitution for “the determined” rather than for “Egyptians.”

Within hours of the campaign’s launch, journalists and bloggers discovered that three of the five Egyptians pictured on the banner were apparently not Egyptians at all, and suspicions grew that the makers of the poster had simply searched Google to find stock images of “a doctor,” “a businesswoman,” “a farmer,” “a man with Down syndrome” and “an Egyptian soldier.”

Posting their discoveries on Twitter, the bloggers Amro Ali and Malak Boghdady showed that the image of the doctor had previously been used on the American site ehowtogetridofstretchmarks.com; the stock image of the businesswoman already graced the home page of an Irish professional networking site; and the image of the man with Down syndrome illustrated an article in an Arizona business magazine last year.

Ahram Online, an English-language site under loose government control, reported that the image of the farmer could be found in the archives of a Czech stock photographer, Frantisek Staud, and the image of the soldier was taken, without permission, from a post on the personal blog of an Ahram journalist, Rowan El-Shimi, in which he had criticized the nation’s army for beating and detaining protesters one month after the Jan. 25, 2011, revolution.

Far from being a loving portrait of the Egyptian Army, Ms. Shimi’s post, illustrated by his photograph of the soldier chosen to promote the new constitution, asked questions about the role of the military in the continuing repression of citizens: “Why were we still under curfew two weeks after Mubarak stepped down and the ongoing protest in Tahrir was dispersed? Is it maybe so the army can use it as an excuse for this violence? Or maybe to remind us exactly of who is in charge?”

Aaron Rose, who covered the news conference for the English-language Daily News Egypt, reported that the banners were apparently produced by a previously unheard-of organization using the name Egypt Peace Lovers Assoc.

The use of stock images of foreigners in place of Egyptians by the authorities led to sardonic comments and online mockery from journalists and activist bloggers, including another member of the Mosireen film collective, Sherief Gaber, who replaced the non-Egyptian Egyptians with a collection of more obvious aliens and police officers.

Dissent was not just limited to poking fun at the authorities in the virtual realm, however, as it might have been during the Mubarak era. Activists took to the streets on Monday, flouting a new law that effectively bans unapproved protests. They rallied outside government offices in downtown Cairo to note the second anniversary of the brutal beating of protesters by soldiers â€" including, most notoriously, a woman who was stripped and kicked in full view of the cameras â€" during the period of direct military rule in 2011.

As the protesters rallied outside, the chairman of the committee that drafted the new constitution, Amr Moussa, spoke to a conference of Arab liberals, in the upper house of Egypt’s Parliament, the Shoura Council.